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BitSummit17 Exposes a Flourishing Japanese Indie Game Scene

June 2, 2017 2:30pm
by Mike Tamburelli

Recently, the world has been absolutely awash in amazing video games from Japanese developers across a magnitude of different genres. The windfall of fantastic games, seemingly starting with late 2016’s Final Fantasy XV and spanning titles like Nier: Automata, Nioh, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 have been keeping our thumbs twitching. As a result, I’ve been hearing it all to often: “Japan is back. Japanese developers have found their magic touch once more.”

I don't really buy into the sentiment, which honestly seems to assume a bit too much.

In my eyes, the world of Japanese video games never actually lost its lustre; to the rest of the world, it simply fell out of focus as other trends and business decisions emerged from western markets and publishers. Remaining hyper-focused on the content we loved, myself and many other gamers found plenty to love from those same studios and talent who gave us some of our most fantastical experiences along the way. There was even room for new and unconventional games from young and budding talent.

Imagine my sheer excitement then, if you will, when I discovered BitSummit - an annual showcase of some of the best games not only from Japan's own underground scene, but also from creative minds the world over who hope to spread their own concepts of fun across international barriers. From university students building their very first virtual reality games to industry veterans who have decided to chart their own paths with new production studios, BitSummit is a microcosm that allows the freshest ideas from one of our favorite hobbies to flourish and grow.

This year's event, officially known as "A 5th of BitSummit," was held in Kyoto, Japan, at the Miyako Messe exhibition hall on Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21. Organized by a host of big industry players alongside some individuals passionate about indie gaming, BitSummit is proud to be one of the largest independent games events in Japan, with 6435 attendees in 2016 alone. Throughout this years event, I was fortunate enough to get hands-on time with 10 games in total. Bridging various genres and niched ideas, we're going to take a look at just what defined my BitSummit weekend:

People Panic

People Panic was a game that would be extremely hard to miss as you entered the exhibit hall. As opposed to the gentle glow of all the TV screens and computer monitors dotting the dimly-lit hall, this light appeared to be popping out of the floor. As I approached to take a closer look, I was handed a long fishing rod-type pole, and noticed what appeared to be a classic flying saucer UFO hanging off the end.

The goal of the game is to work with your teammates to abduct as many people, animals, and eventually objects as possible. Of course, as the image is not actually coming from the floor, an overhead projector works in tandem with the UFOs to determine where they are located on the playing field, thus allowing you to abduct anything below your own UFO. After 2 minutes or so of sucking up us much of the map as possible, everyone receives the total score, and a new round begins almost immediately.

Of course, being quite an unconventional installation for a video game, it will be interesting to see how developer Coconoe brings the game to a wider audience.

Official Site: 9ye.jp

Strange Telephone

Strange Telephone was, stylistically, one of my favorite games at the show. From the snap I captured above you can see main character Jill standing in front of this ominous looking door. As it would turn out, Jill is now trapped in this dark and mysterious world, and the only way to get out is to rely on her mysterious floating pal named Graham. Graham resembles a telephone, and Jill must use the hovering horn to dial up one a plethora of worlds via 6-digit numbers.

It's a beautiful point-and-click adventure in a pixel art style, complete with retro scanlines and all. As you navigate the worlds, there are also a number of items that you can pick up to help you along the way. These include a lantern which light up those darker worlds, and a hatchet letting you cut through obstacles. I chatted with game's developer, Yuta, about his concept:

Strange Telephone is a big game with 5 endings. In order to get them all, I encourage players to share their world numbers with friends to help them out. In this way, it is also a sort of social game, but you have to find a way to do this outside of the app.

Strange Telephone is available now on both Android and iOS devices, in both Japanese and English. Also on display at the booth was a PC version, which is planned for release later this year.

Official Site: magniflop.com

Samurai Inferno Castle

Now this one was just oozing with style and fresh ideas. The best way to describe Samurai Inferno Castle would have to be a blend between classic Japanese "yanki" biker gangs and Fire Emblem. On their turn, players are able to move their characters on gridded maps, and can chose from the standard options such as "Attack," "Item," and "Wait." The action is a fair bit more fast-paced than your typical SRPG, and taking down huge bosses requires you to be more inventive than approaching the enemy square and pressing "Attack."

In the demo, I found myself facing a gigantic demon with two oversized arms. It was only after you incapacitated the arms that its head would emerge from behind the castle roof. In order to have myself in an advantageous position to strike the head, I had to move about placing bombs to damage the arms. If the rest of the game has you thinking on your feet in a similar style, I sense a real winner on our hands. Oh, and did I also mention there's an insanely fun multiplayer mode?

Official Site: Kyoto x Unity

Rising Arch: Raika kawaseshi shiren no tou

Rising Arch is part-action, part-puzzle, and complete-fun. The game has two options when it comes to input; you can either take advantage of a touch screen monitor, or you can opt for a more traditional mouse and click scheme. It's clear which method the developers had in mind for the game however, as you are tasked with ascending a tower full of puzzles by hovering at precise points in midair, all while taking aim with your oversized magic bow to shoot down enemies. Tap once to warp, hold your finger to hover, and drag your finger back to aim and shoot your bow; easy. Just don't let go in the wrong spots, or else you may find yourself falling onto the spikes below.

Featuring a host of characters, gorgeous pixel graphics and screen-engulfing effects, Rising Arch is sure to please fans of great 2D romps. The developers were selling special BitSummit emblazoned cards with download codes for trial versions of the game, and they detailed that the full version of the game is due out by year's end. I would urge you to keep an eye on their site and Twitter page for more info.

Official Site: Banraku-Hatenkou

va-ll hall-a (PlayStation Vita Version)

va-ll hall-a, while perhaps not a new game for many, is receiving an official release in Japan complete with translation. So of course the indie darling should have a presence at Japan's biggest indie games show, right? Oh, and what's this? A PlayStation Vita release too? Sign me up! I played a good portion of their demo, and the game is just as sharply-written and witty in Japanese as it is English.

Haven't given it a try yet? If you are a fan of incredibly detailed pixel graphics, brilliant writing and a general cyberpunk aesthetic, this game will be right up your alley. Oh, and props to the team for blaring the game's OST throughout the exhibition hall over a killer retro boombox.

Official Site: Sukeban Games

Save Me Mr. Tako!

Did someone put a Game Boy on the big screen? You wouldn't be faulted for thinking so as you walked past this booth, as that's just the feeling that developer Christophe Galati wishes to evoke. Save Me Mr. Tako puts you in the tentacle-filled shoes of a little octopus soldier. Yes, these octopi are at war - with humans! The beginning of the demo had you attacking a human ship in the middle of a storm. One of the passengers of the ship falls into the sea, and through a cutscene your octopus jumps in after to save her. From here, the story unfolds as you guide the little rebel through some retro-inspired, hybrid platformer and RPG action.

One of the best parts of the whole experience? You can swap the game's color palette on the fly with the press of a button, just as if you were playing an original Game Boy game on a Game Boy Advance, but with just a few more options.

Save Me Mr. Tako will be available soon, with PC and WiiU releases planned.

Official IndieDB Page: Save Me Mr. Tako

Battle Sports Mekuru

Perhaps even more joyous than playing the game itself was the official Battle Sports Mekuru tournament that BitSummit held on the main stage. With a brand-new Nintendo Switch up for grabs, teams of event ticket holders duked it out against some pretty big-name industry veterans. Featuring a star-studded lineup including Castlevania's own Koji Igarashi, it was hard not to root for the gamers from the audience who were competing against them.

Battle Sports Mekuru is a Nintendo Switch-exclusive title developed by new Japanese studio Over Fence. The goal of the game is to run around a grid-like board, ground pounding the tiles to claim them as your own. With each pound, you flip a number of tiles in a cross-shaped pattern extending in all directions. Power-ups that you collect can have an effect on how many tiles you flip, and the pattern in which they flip as well. As you can imagine, this all makes for some pretty hectic action, and is the perfect game for a party-like setting.

Just as many of BitSummit's presentations and stage events were streamed over Twitch, so too was the tournament. Players young and old, industry vets and gaming newcomers alike made this game a blast to watch, and it was even more enjoyable to try it out myself. It's currently available on the Japanese Nintendo Switch eShop, and I'm sure a worldwide release isn't too far off.

Official Site: Battle Sports Mekuru

Momodora V (Working Title)

The game Momodora V may not see a final release under that same name, but what I played of it was a genuinely eye-catching example of stylized 3D action in it's purest form.

Originally introduced as a direct sequel to the first four titles in the series, it quickly branched off instilling a series-first 3D approach to a once pixelated series. As I guided my character through a serene castle environment, I was met with tight controls and physics perhaps similar to an entry into the Dark Souls series. If anything says successful leap into 3D gaming, my guess is that would be a pretty good indicator.

Since the game was revealed at the event, the developer has expressed intention in proceeding with this project separate from the Momodora series itself.

Official Website: Bombservice

God Breath You

As we've already seen with titles like People Panic, BitSummit, as well as indie games scene itself is definitely not afraid to venture outside the realm of the usual with their games. God Breath You is a prime example of a game that can be just as fun, if not even more so, without any traditional input device like a controller.

There are two aspects to the game: one player dons a VR helmet and finds themselves on a boat, while up to 4 other players squeeze little syringes attached to mini Roman-style busts in order to blow gusts of air at a small wooden model of aforementioned boat with a sensor attached to it. The player on the boat is essentially the captain, and must shout out directions such as "Left," Right," and Straight Ahead" in order to get the wind gods to steer the boat to safety. It was tons of fun, and I cannot wait to see what the team at 1->10drive bring to the table next.

Official Developer Site: 1->10drive

God of Money

As I walked past this booth, it was admittedly not the game or the VR helmet that attracted me. Rather, it was a person standing nearby. That person just happened to be acclaimed developer of cult hit Deadly Premonition and D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die Swery65, or Mr. Hidetaka Suehiro. Of course, I just had to approach him for a chat, and during the course of our conversation I became insanely curious about this game he appeared to be monitoring. As it would turn out, it wasn't exactly his game per se, but he did have a hand in it.

Thus, at the urging of Swery65, I was prompted to try out my very first (believe it or not) full VR game. God of Money is a project created by students at Osaka Electro-Communication University under Swery65's mentoring. He told me that VR was a prime space for young developers to bring their innovative ideas to fruition.

After the Occulus Rift helmet was carefully attached to my head, the developers handed me the Occulus controllers, and explained the rules of the game. I only needed to grip one button, and it was as simple as throwing anything I might choose to toss in the real world. As a benevolent God of Wealth, you simply need to toss wads of cash to the masses scrambling about your perch. The physics were spot on, and I walked away a believer in our VR future.

The next generation of creators are clearly in good hands.

Official Facebook Page: VR Media Research Project

Giga Wrecker

You would honestly believe that a new title by the acclaimed studio Game Freak, the very same developers behind the best-selling Pokémon games, would be headline news, right? Well apparently I've either been under a rock, or this just slipped under everyones radar, as I was completely unaware of their latest title Giga Wrecker prior to BitSummit, which has been available in Japan since February 6, 2017.

If there's anything I walked away knowing, it's that you need to head over to Steam pronto and pick up this gem, which just recently released with English-language support. Featuring a gorgeous art style reflective of the game's gritty nature, Giga Wrecker is described as a "debris action" game. The moniker totally fits, as it was a total blast to maneuver around the world, throwing junk around at will and bashing enemies with impromptu swords, spears and drills.

Official Site: Giga Wrecker

And so much more...

Even though I dedicated almost an entire weekend at BitSummit, playing far more games than I could have at larger events such as E3 or Tokyo Game Show, I earnestly feel like I barely even scratched the surface. While there were some familiar faces from larger events such as Nintendo and PlayStation, this was very much a show for the little guys. But the presence of those larger companies undeniably shows their dedication to the scene, and that's always a good thing.

Attached below is a series of photos from the showroom floor including the aforementioned booths from Nintendo and PlayStation:

If you are interested in BitSummit and any future events that may be held, be sure to keep an eye on their official website here.

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PlayStation Releases Lineup Video ft. Taku Takahashi, YUC'e, hy4_4yh, Kamura Micau

October 22, 2018 1:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

There's no denying it when I say that PlayStation Japan absolutely kills it with their lineup videos each and every time they're uploaded, regardless of what console you have your hands on. Consistently bringing on some of the biggest names in the Japanese music scene, we've seen anybody from banvox to tofubeats, with this latest four-person combo taking things to new heights. Bringing together the respective talents of Taku Takahashi, YUC'e, hy4_4yh, and Kamura Micau all together for a four-and-a-half-minute fever-dream, the video can be checked out below:
 


Filled to the brim with rave stabs and other high energy elements, we're sped through nineteen upcoming and currently available titles at lightspeed to the flow of rap duo hy4_4yh and Kamura Micau layered over Taku Takahashi and YUC'e's signature sounds. If you're familiar with these trailers, you likely already know what's going on, PlayStation Japan throws their most anticipated upcoming titles at you all at once while you're left bouncing around your room to whatever incredibly produced track they bring forward this time. It's a formula that's still yet to disappoint, though this certainly does raise the bar.

We're of course seeing a number of titles in the lineup that I can't wait to get my hands on, including SEGA's upcoming JUDGE EYES, as well as Square Enix's much-anticipated Dragon Quest Builders 2, so that ends up amplifying the hype by about a million. With such a flavorful mix of both veteran and up-and-coming musicians brought together for this video, it'll definitely be interesting to see how PlayStation Japan one-up's themselves next time. Now we just wait and see who's next.

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Kindan no Tasuketsu Release 'Early Years 2012-2016' Compilation Album

October 22, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Alternative pop music group Kindan no Tasuketsu are a difficult group to digest, and an equally difficult group to understand. Their music is seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and it remains truly difficult to really describe their activities with any level of comprehensive understanding. I've attempted a few times in the past to share their music, most of which I listen to a whole lot, but I just genuinely couldn't put words together to describe the group. But here I am once again, giving it a shot, following the release of their latest compilation album "Early Years 2012-2016". 
 


For a band that's constantly evolving, four years is a massively expansive time to compile; yet across a tracklist spanning twenty-six tracks, Kindan no Tasuketsu piece together a semi-coherent image of their history through sound. I had most definitely not heard every single one of those aforementioned twenty-six tracks, which honestly made the whole listen-through all the more exciting. There are a few tracks that the group obviously want you to direct your attention to, including the fittingly dreamy single "nemui" which originally released in 2012, having received its own music video earlier this week.
 

It'd be slightly odd for a group to suddenly drop a compilation album like this, were they not teasing a "season 4" of Kindan no Tasuketsu via their various social media accounts. So with an entire "season" of new music on the way from the group, it's cozy being able to divulge in their history via the "Early Years 2012-2016" album. We're sure we'll be seeing more music in the coming months -- if not weeks -- so we'll be sure to keep you updated when it finally drops. Until then, you can check out even more information on the group via their official website.

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Latest Pokémon: Let's Go! Trailer Reveals Post-Game Master Trainers

October 19, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

It was just earlier this week that I was sharing some news about the release of a new trailer for Game Freak's upcoming Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! titles on Nintendo Switch, but it doesn't look like The Pokémon Company is ready to stop dropping teasers just yet. Uploaded to The Pokémon Company's official YouTube channel, the latest trailer gives us a look at some of the post-game content we'll be able to enjoy, namely the "Master Trainers" system that's being implemented.
 


I'm not really sure how cool I am with post-game content just being shown like this, I actually like a bit of surprise, but none-the-less it's pretty neat to see in action. The new "Master Trainers" system effectively introduces a master for each of the original 151 different Pokémon, a trainer that specializes in that Pokémon exclusively, who you can battle with that same Pokémon to earn the title of "Master Trainer". It's a really interesting system, though I really hope that the game doesn't provide you with the particular Pokémon for the battle and leaves trainers catching and training their own. 

Set to release exclusively on Nintendo Switch on November 16, further information on both ​Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! can be found via the games' official website. Those interested in getting their hands on the upcoming games, as well as a limited-edition Pokémon: Let's Go! Nintendo Switch, be sure to check out our ongoing giveaway, here.

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NASA Announces Designated 'Godzilla' Constellation

October 19, 2018 1:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

One of the more interesting pieces of information to cap off the working week, NASA has officially announced an all-new constellation that you can spend your time looking for in the sky -- the King of Monsters itself, Godzilla. The pop cultural icon joins numerous other characters in the sky, bringing just a little more light to our night alongside Hulk, The Little Prince, Mt. Fuji, and mythological legends Hercules, Perseus, and more. I've never been too good with constellations, but a full visualization of the new Godzilla constellation can be seen below:



Made up of numerous likely blazar, a definite blazar, a starburst galaxy, a gamma-ray pulsar, and an unknown entity, the lining is much like other constellations in the fact that you'll definitely have much of your imagination do the work. NASA states on their official website to describe how the constellation came to be " Godzilla's trademark weapon is its "heat ray," a fiery jet. This bears at least a passing resemblance to gamma-ray jets associated with black holes and neutron stars."



Obviously there are a lot more technicalities to the Godzilla constellation that I'm not even going to bother trying to wrap my head around, but for those who are interested in checking it out, NASA has created a page to detail it all on their official website.

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Funimation Annoucnes End of Licensing Agreement with Crunchyroll

October 19, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

In a somewhat shocking turn of events, it was announced today that Funimation will be ceasing operations with Crunchyroll beginning next month from November 9, 2018. The announcement comes just a year after the acquisition of the anime distributor by Sony Pictures Television, to which Funimation CEO Gen Fukunaga shared that the acquisition directly correlates with the decision to stop collaborative efforts between the two companies. Originally announced in 2016, the partnership brought together the catalogs of both anime giants and allowed customers to reap the rewards of both services in numerous ways.

While subscribers to both platforms are likely to feel a little bit of a hit, it was shared by Funimation's Gen Fukunaga that FunimationNow subscribers will have access to several hundred subbed series, but are going to be losing a handful of dubbed series. In addition to this, some content licensed during the partnership will remain on both platforms for now, with currently simulcasting series such as My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan remaining on both platforms. Both platforms have shared that they will disclose what content will be removed at a later date.

While this is quite a substantial loss for Crunchyroll, it's been reported that the breakup was executed on good terms between both companies. In addition to this, it's been detailed that Crunchyroll's sister company VRV will be replacing FunimationNow on their streaming platform with content from anime streaming service HIDIVE in the next few weeks. While the timing for this new HIDIVE partnership seems like far too much of a coincidence, Forbes reports that insiders have stated it was unrelated.

It'll be interesting to see over the next few months how Sony plans to proceed following their withdrawal of Funimation from the Crunchyroll/VRV partnership. It wouldn't surprise me if this withdrawal is Sony's way of showing that they mean serious business when it comes to taking Funimation to the top, and that is something that will certainly prove interesting from an industry standpoint. Until we find out, however, you'll be able to keep up with everything Funimation on Crunchyroll until ​November 9, 2018. We'll be sure to keep you updated as further information is revealed. 

Source: Forbes, Funimation

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‘Kaiji’ VR Game Heads to Smartphones

October 18, 2018 2:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

While fearing for my life isn’t usually my idea of fun, when it comes to Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s gambling series Kaiji, I can just about stomach some immobilizing dread. Indeed, nothing allows you to do so more than the Kaiji VR game, which has been a constant staple in Japan’s many “VR attraction” venues in recent years. Now, that attraction is making it’s way to smartphones - giving even more people the chance to experience Kaiji’s dread first hand.

Titled Kaiji VR: The Nightmare Bridge, the game seeks to replicate Kaiji’s experience crossing a bridge suspended between two buildings, as was one of the ‘gambles’ featured in the second part of the series. Simply reading or watching the arc was nerve-wracking enough, and I can promise you that it’s even more terrifying in VR, having had the opportunity to test it out for myself last year.

It’s worth noting that the VR game has already seen two ports for PlayStation VR as well as Nintendo Switch last year, but the game’s port to smartphones means greater accessibility, especially for those who can’t simply go and experience it in the VR attraction venues. And what a perfect time to do so, with Kaiji spinoff Tonegawa currently airing, and the manga having just entered a new arc.

The difference between the various ports over the years are interesting, as although the PSVR version of the game was more or less exactly the same as the original version since the Switch doesn’t support VR, the version available on the console uses a third person camera in some instances as well as gyro controls. I sincerely doubt that the non-VR version on Switch can capture the same dread you’re able to feel when playing the game in VR, so it’s great to see that version available on smartphones is the VR version - for which you’ll, of course, need some sort of VR goggles/phone strap.

The recent activity in properties related to Kaiji is curious, with both spinoff manga Tonegawa and Hancho receiving an anime adaptation, and now with this surprise smartphone port of the VR game. I can only hope that this is to gauge interest for a third season, so if you haven’t checked out the VR game yet, then I’d recommend you do - if only to tell MADHOUSE that we want a third season already. Kaiji VR: The Nightmare Bridge is available now on the App Store and Google Play for 360 yen.

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Akira Toriyama’s Original Character Designs for ‘Jump Force’ Revealed

October 18, 2018 1:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

Things seem to be proceeding well with Weekly Shonen Jump's upcoming brawler Jump Force, which is scheduled for release next year in 2019. OTAQUEST already had a chance to sit down with the game at this year’s Tokyo Games Show, and while our gameplay impressions were mixed, the recent news of legendary mangaka Akira Toriyama’s involvement in the game was enough to get us excited again. While Toriyama’s original character designs were already previewed during Bandai Namco’s press conference, this month’s V Jump gives a better look at them, as well as some new information.



First up are two good guys who will be helping on your journey through the tumultuous world of Jump Force. The bald gentleman is named Grabber and is the leader of Anbras Base, where the player character finds themselves upon awakening. The robot next to him is named Navigator and will provide you with support on your journey - presumably related to character backstories, gameplay controls, and much more.

Next to them are two evil characters, who you and the various characters of Jump will find themselves clashing against. On the left, we have Cain, who is a leading figure of the evil organization ‘Venoms.’ The text also states that he is incredibly powerful, which is probably why he thinks that wearing a gold suit of armor is cool. To his right, we find Garena, an associate and member of the same organization of Cain. Interestingly, it is noted that underneath her beauty she hides a secret - perhaps one that could win her over to the good side?

One of my main questions surrounding Jump Force was the story’s antagonist since villains from Jump are being featured as playable characters. It’s not surprising that the villain has turned out to be an original character, but getting a veritable legend such as Toriyama to pen the designs was a great move - we’ve already seen how great his designs are in action, and especially in 3D thanks to his continued work on the Dragon Quest as a character designer. 

With the game’s antagonists revealed, all that really remains now is to see what other Jump characters are confirmed as playable - most recently we’ve had Seiya and Ryu from Saint Seiya confirmed, along with Yu-Gi-Oh!’s Dark Yugi/Pharaoh. I’m still holding out for some characters from Nisio Isin and Akira Akatsuki's excellent Jump series Medaka Box to be confirmed, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

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